England will this evening face their toughest test to date at the Women's World Cup finals in Germany, Hope Powell's team taking on a Japan side described by the Birmingham City winger Karen Carney as "the Barcelona of women's football" in their third and final group game.
National coach Powell is as admiring as Carney of opponents who are already through to the knock-out stages with maximum points from their first two games, the second ending in a 4-0 victory over a Mexico team that held England to a 1-1 draw in the group opener.
"Japan are very technical, they play the ball around you and they keep the ball better than any other team at this tournament," said Powell, whose team need a point from the game in Augsburg to ensure that they qualify for the quarter-finals.
"Japan are already through so there's no pressure on them," added Powell, whose side beat New Zealand 2-1 in their second game. "You hope they'll relax because of that, and they might rest players – but they'll still want to win the game. We'll also be trying for three points though, and we would certainly like to finish top of the group."
Topping the group will probably mean avoiding the tournament's hot favourites, Germany, in the quarter-finals and instead facing France, though both teams have six points heading into tonight's Group A decider. France look the form side after demolishing Canada 5-0.
Germany, who thrashed England 6-2 in the Euro 2009 final, are aiming for a third successive World Cup triumph and Powell said: "If we get through then whoever we get in the quarter-finals, it's going to be very tough. You think you'd like to avoid Germany, but then you look at the way France have been playing and think, 'That would be really hard'. So all we can do is try to win our match, hope that we get into that last eight and then wait to see if it's Germany or France in the next game."
Results so far
Japan (1) 2 New Zealand (1) 1
Mexico (1) 1 ngland (1) 1
Japan (3) 4 Mexico 0
New Zealand (1) 1 ngland (0) 2
Tonight: England v Japan; New Zealand v Mexico (both 5.15, British Eurosport)Reuse content